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3.6 out of 5 stars
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon March 25, 2010
In the small town of Juliet, Saskatchewan you may imagine that not much goes on. But you would be wrong. Surrounded by the Little Snake sand hills, the residents of Juliet go about their daily lives, caught up in the hills and valleys that life often brings. Lila prepares for her pregnant teenaged daughter's upcoming wedding, even though she knows that the union is doomed to fail. Vicki and Blaine Dolson, the parents of six young children and in dire financial straits, struggle just to get by. Lee, who was abandonded as a baby and raised by his "aunt" and "uncle", tries to carry on the family legacy after his aunt and uncle pass away. The foundation of Hank and Lynn Trass' marriage is threatened by one tiny piece of paper. Willard and his sister-in-law Marian continue to live under the same roof and run the local drive-in theatre despite the fact that Marian's husband, Ed, has passed away, and the two are heavily denying their growing feelings for one another. All of these characters, as well as more secondary ones, come to life under Dianne Warren's hand in the engrossing "Cool Water".

It surprised me how much I enjoyed this book. Once all of the characters and their stories were introduced, I became caught up in their various lives and problems and had a hard time putting the book down. The writing itself is understated which fit perfectly with the laid-back vibe of the small town of Juliet. For me these aspects combined (the low-key writing, the small town, the fact that the entire book takes place only over the course of about 24 hours) to convey the message that small towns are not filled with small people, but rather with people who may seem simple yet are incredibly complicated. This book worked so well with a small town as the setting, and would not have worked as well if it had taken place in a large city. In Juliet, all of the character's lives were intertwined, even if it was in a small way.

Vicki and Blaine Dolson and their six children emerged as early character favourites for me. They are struggling financially, and they are also struggling with the difference between how their parents did things and how they are doing things. Vicki's focus is on her young children and you can tell that she would do anything to make them happy. You can also tell that she is a really good mom, and that housekeeping and chores can come backseat to that, because her kids are her priorities in life. She's almost unapologetic about the fact that she is nothing like her mother-in-law, nor will she strive to be like her. She is a whole new generation. I enjoyed the stories of all of the characters, but the story of the Dolson's remains my favourite.

Cool Water is Dianne Warren's first full- length novel, and one that I highly recommend picking up. It does the Canadian Literature genre proud.
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Cool Water bears all the telltale signs of a Governor General's Award winner: a remote Canadian setting, eloquent prose, contemplative characters and a slow-moving plot. Warren recounts a 24-hour period in the lives of various townsfolk. A couple prepares for their teenaged daughter's upcoming (and doomed) wedding, parents of six young children struggle to make ends meet and a young man, abandoned as a baby, searches for answers about his purpose in the world. Although certainly not a page-turner, this book becomes engrossing as it progresses and highlights the extraordinary in the quotidian.
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Often I will sit and peruse the cover of a book before opening it and starting to read, wondering what connection the cover has to the story inside. I love the feel of diners and those postcards promised a good story....

Cool Water takes place in tiny Juliet, Saskatchewan over the course of two days. In rotating chapters we follow the lives of a few of the inhabitants.

Lee was a foundling, taken in by the Torgesons. They've passed on and he's now alone on the farm they've left him, unsure of himself and his place in life. Blaine and Vicki Dolson have six children - and a truckload of debt. Local banker Norval Birch has always followed the rules, but begins to question what he's really accomplished in life. Willard and his brother's widow Marian have shared the same house for nine years. They are unable to identify and act on the fact that they love one another. Lynn questions her husband's faithfullness when she finds a woman's phone number in his pocket.

None of these scenarios are earth shattering, but that is the genius behind Cool Water. There's nothing special about the characters - they're just everyday people trying to do the best they can. We become privy to the happenings behind closed doors, the feelings, emotions and memories of the characters.

Dianne Warren's prose are simple, yet eloquent and aching. The inhabitants and the town of Juliet are so clearly drawn, I had very defined mental images of both. Warren has captured the feel of small town perfectly. Living near a town of the same size, I found myself walking down Main Street the other day, looking at those I met on the sidewalk just a little bit differently.

Tying many of these stories together was a horse, both present and from the past. The horse is prominent in Lee's journey as he unwittingly recreates a hundred mile ride from the past. Lee's story touched me the most of all the characters. I was surprised by the redemption of Norval's wife Lila. At first she came across as distinctly unlikeable, but as events unfolded I was caught off guard by her reaction. But Vicki was another character who I related to - the thought of cutting and blanching bushels of beans is daunting, yet I too do it year after year.

Warren was a Canadian author new to me, but one I encourage you to discover. An absolute five star read.
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on October 5, 2011
Take a drink of Cool Water with Dianne Warren's wonderful book set in the sand dunes of Southern Saskatchewan. Her novel, in the form of interconnected stories, paints a complex picture of a place in time and the people who live there.
The opening chapter, or prologue describes a long-distance horse race that took place in the district many years earlier. Starting at the buffalo rubbing stone just to the north of what was then the settlement of Juliet, two cowboys proceeded 25 miles north, then west, south, and east, finally returning to the stone, outlining a 100-mile perimeter around the Little Snake Hills. The path of the race sets the parameters for the rest of the story.
Lee Torgenson awakens in the middle of the night to the sound of hoofbeats. Assuming they are the phantom hoofbeats that plague him most nights, he thinks nothing of it, until he finally gets up and discovers a real horse in his yard. The horse does not protest when Lee saddles him, and so, with the moon shining down on them, they begin their 24-hour adventure together. Lee inadvertently starts out on the same path as the historic horse race. Learning about the race at the half-way point, he decides to continue on the same route.
Although Lee's adventure starts the action, and literally draws a boundary around the story, there are many other tales that unfold and each of the stories is connected in some way to one or another. As Lee travels throughout the day, he sees or visits different farms and homesteads and we get a glimpse of the people who live there and see how their lives crisscross and intertwine. We witness interactions between a cowboy and a rebellious teenager, a bank manager and a father at the end of his rope. We see an older couple trying to make a connection with each other and a father communicating with his son, however briefly. One woman loses her horse and another is afraid she's lost a husband. We see how someone's innocent action earlier in the day has repercussions later, so that leaving a gate open, or writing down a phone number, can have potentially disastrous consequences.
This is a very satisfying book. Warren describes her complex, appealing characters in a very warm-hearted, straightforward manner. Through them, she reminds us that we are all connected. We live our lives and each of us has our own story but we are inextricably linked to others, no matter how ephemerally and whether or not we are aware of that connection and its possible effect. Not a new idea perhaps, but somehow comforting nonetheless, and Warren's version of it is a pure pleasure to read.
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on January 30, 2011
This is a wonderful book. I loved the characters and felt drawn in to their stories. I thought about them long after the book was finished... that's a sign of a great book, to me! The story takes place over a brief time and it is very compelling. There is something for everyone in this book... I highly recommend it!
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on September 18, 2011
A wonderful book. Who knew that the relatively mundane lives of Canadians in small- town Saskatchewan could capture a reader's attention and hold it to this extent?! I thoroughly enjoyed this book and will recommend it to others. In ways, the prose reminded me of Frances Itani - another Canadian author we can be proud to call our own.
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on October 23, 2015
This book consists of several chapters covering various characters in south western Saskatchewan over the period of a day. Each chapter is like a short story in itself, from the point of view of different characters. Very clever how the characters' lives are intertwined throughout the day. Also really captured the local feel, very realistic. I would highly recommend it.
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on October 8, 2015
This is a beautifully written story encapsulating the lives of many in a small town and how each in interwoven with the other. It's as I imagine some town life to be... Highly recommended, I look forward to her next book - I'm a fan.
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on August 21, 2013
A beautiful look at everyday lives. I couldn't put it down, In fact I read it in just 24 hours.
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The modern Canadian writer Dianne Warren has written a very powerful novel about life on the Canadian prairies in the twenty-first century. Her focus is the tiny, anonymous farming community of Juliet, lost somewhere in the sand hills of the southern Canadian prairies. Everything about this arid little town is dreary, depressing and somewhat restrictive. Its dusty, flyblown complexion suggests that it would be the last place on earth most of us would want to settle down and raise a family. Warren's story consists of a number of cleverly interwoven personal stories of locals who have arrived at a point in life where they realize that they are permanently trapped in this little backwater. Sure, they want to move to the big city or, at least, somewhere as far away as possible to start over again, but time, familial duty, the ownership of land, and debt makes that prospect very dim. Warren has a unique way of bringing the reader in touch with each of these pathetic circumstances: a self-absorbed wife who only catches on to her husband's infidelity by accident, a single mother who is left to fend for her brood of six children, a foundling who has been left a farm that he doesn't know what to do with, a young couple getting married under dubious circumstances and a bank manager who is privy to all that goes on in the community because he controls its life blood. It is these many existential perspectives that add up to produce a very captivating and, at times, humorous picture about the future of community life in rural Canada. While it is not pretty at the best of times, there continues to be a desire to hang in there and cherish those relics and memories of a by-gone era even when they no longer mean anything: parents, horse races across the open prairies, old buildings serving as social landmarks, and the lingering dreams of a yet-to-be-fulfilled prosperity. Everything in this novel is fragile and could be gone at a moment's whim but for that intangible greater purpose in life that connects the individual to the land. The reader should be aware of the metaphoric power of nature at work in the novel: wind, sand, death, water, land, and sky. These are some of the mysterious forces, in Warren's view, that continue to keep us clinging to community regardless of an ever present desire to leave.
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